Tom Mann was of one British trades unionism’s most famous figures. He was born on 15th April 1856, in what is now a suburb of Coventry, the son of a clerk who worked at a colliery. He attended school from the ages of six to nine, then began work doing odd jobs on the colliery farm. A year later he became a trapper, a labour-intensive jobs that involved clearing blockages from the narrow airways in the mining shafts. In 1870, the colliery was forced to close and the family moved to Birmingham. Mann soon found work as an engineering apprentice and when he had finished with this, in 1877, he moved to London.
Initially, he was unable to find work as an engineer and took a series of unskilled jobs. In 1879, Mann found work in an engineering shop. Here he was introduced to socialism decided to improve his own education. His reading included the works of William Morris, Henry George and John Ruskin. In 1881 he joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and took part in his first strike. In 1884, he joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in Battersea. Here he met John Burns and Henry Hyde Champion, who encouraged him to publish a pamphlet calling for the working day to be limited to eight hours. Mann formed an organisation, the Eight Hour League, which successfully pressured the TUC to adopt the eight-hour day as a key goal.
After reading the Communist Manifesto in 1886, Mann became an avowed communist and never lost his belief in Marxism. When he moved to Newcastle, he organised the SDF in the north of England, and also managed Keir Hardie‘s electoral campaign in Lanark before returning to London in 1888, where he worked in support of the Bryant and May match factory strike. With Burns and Champion, he began producing a journal, the Labour Elector in 1888.
Along with Burns and Ben Tillett, Mann was one of the leading figures in the London Dock Strike in 1889. He was responsible for organising relief for the strikers and their families. With the support of other unions and various organisations, the strike was successful. Following the strike, Mann was elected President of the newly-formed Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers’ Union, with Tillett as General Secretary. Tillett and Mann wrote a pamphlet called `New Unionismwas also elected to the London ’. Mann Trades and Labour Council and as secretary of the National Reform Union, and was a member of the Royal Commission on labour from 1891 to 1893.
In 1894, he was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party and became its Secretary in 1894. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the party in the 1895 General Election. In 1896 he was beaten in the election for Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. He helped create the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and was its first President. He was deported from a number of European countries for organising trade unions.
In 1901, Mann emigrated to Australia (pic above taken in Australia) to see if that country’s broader electoral franchise would allow more "drastic modification of capitalism". Settling in Melbourne he was active in Australian trade unions and became an organiser for the Australian Labor Party. However, he grew disillusioned with the party, believing it was being corrupted by the nature of government and concerned only with winning elections. He felt that the federal Labour MPs were unable and unwilling to change society, and their prominence within the movement was stifling and over-shadowing organised labour. He resigned from the ALP and founded the Victoria Socialist Party.
Returning to Britain in 1910, Mann wrote `The Way to Win’, which argued that socialism could only be achieved through trade unionism and co-operation. He founded the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, and worked as an organiser for Ben Tillett. He led the Liverpool transport strike of 1911, after which he was convicted of sedition. His prison sentence was quashed after public pressure. He was opposed to Britain’s involvement in the first World War and, in 1917, he joined the British Socialist Party.
In 1919 he again ran for election as Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and was this time successful. He held the post until 1921, when he retired at the age of sixty-five. He welcomed the Russian Revolution and called for soviets to be formed in Britain. In 1920, he was a founder member of the Communist Party. Tom Mann was chairman of the National Minority Movement, from its formation in 1924 to 1929.
Mann continued to campaign for socialism publishing pamphlets and speakign at meetings in Britain and abroad, and he was arrested for sedition on several more occasions. He continued to be a popular figure in the labour movement, attracting large audiences to rallies and benefits. During the Spanish Civil War he wanted to fight on the Republican side, but was by that time far too old. A unit of the International Brigade, the Tom Mann Centuria, was named in his honour.